Gar­den view

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

He­len Bil­liald learns use­ful lessons from the gar­den

The gar­den is an as­ton­ish­ing teacher. You could spend years study­ing gar­den­ing tech­niques in text­books, but if you re­ally want to ac­cel­er­ate your learn­ing, there’s no sub­sti­tute for time spent out­doors ‘do­ing’. No won­der ap­pren­tice­ship and prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence are viewed as sacro­sanct for those study­ing hor­ti­cul­ture. If you want to learn, then go out and get your hands dirty, prefer­ably with a knowl­edge­able men­tor to nudge you along the way. Thank­fully this coun­try is rich in prac­ti­cal short courses even if you haven’t cho­sen hor­ti­cul­ture as a ca­reer. All the big gar­dens seem to run work­shops, whether it’s swat­ting up on prop­a­ga­tion or de­mys­ti­fy­ing fruit tree prun­ing, you get to have a gig­gle with like-minded in­di­vid­u­als and boost your skillset all in one go. But there’s one type of learn­ing no one else can help you with: the ed­u­ca­tion that comes from mak­ing enor­mous, glo­ri­ous mis­takes in the se­cu­rity of your own gar­den. My own past is lit­tered with them! There was the spring when I never quite got round to dig­ging out a cou­ple of bram­ble shoots, only to re­visit the idea in au­tumn and dis­cover a thorny thicket wor­thy of Sleep­ing Beauty. Or the year I rushed to plant a herba­ceous bor­der only for it turn into some pretty ex­pen­sive rab­bit hors d’oeu­vres. (Al­ways check your fenc­ing.) Then there are the thou­sands of lit­tle lessons that ac­cu­mu­late along the way, al­most too small to note at the time: the hap­haz­ard cut­tings that mirac­u­lously take; the sea­son where you mulched ev­ery­thing and dis­cov­ered how lit­tle time you spent weed­ing; the re­al­i­sa­tion that green­house vig­i­lance all but wipes out prob­lems with pests and dis­ease. Much of this gar­den learn­ing is tied so tightly to place, that mov­ing house can leave you feel­ing adrift. When my hus­band Dave and I switched to our walled Som­er­set

plot I found I’d lost the equiv­a­lent of an in­ter­nal ref­er­ence book. Af­ter 30 years spent get­ting to know one gar­den in­ti­mately, this new space felt as alien as the moon. I sud­denly found my­self on heavy clay af­ter years on free-drain­ing sand. We now had to con­tend with bar­relling west­er­lies stream­ing in from the coast. And for that very rea­son, this was now an en­closed gar­den, rather than one with sweep­ing views. But six years on, the lay­ers of learn­ing about this place are pil­ing up. I’ve been taught the value of wind­breaks and re­ceived graphic demon­stra­tions of how wind tun­nels work, should you care to open up a new gate in a west-fac­ing wall. Clay is no longer some­thing to be feared, but rates as the most fer­tile ground I’ve

Ev­ery day’s a school day in the gar­den, says he­len Bil­liald. mostly, it’s by trial and er­ror

ever worked with. And de­spite a life­long love of a sharp spade, I’ve dis­cov­ered go­ing no-dig on this heav­ier ground means I can get into my kitchen gar­den even in win­ter. The time it takes to learn a place is a les­son too, for any­one drawn to the idea of ‘in­stant gar­den­ing’. Could some­one re­ally come in for two hours and de­sign me a gar­den that would ‘work’? Only now do we know where the wa­ter sits af­ter heavy rain, where frost can lie for days, and where the nightin­gale sings in May. I’m not sure any­thing can re­place the years spent learn­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of a new gar­den, but at least here it no longer feels like we’re gar­den­ing on the moon!

He­len Bil­liald is a gar­den­ing writer with a MSc in Ecol­ogy and a Phd in Pest Man­age­ment

If you want to learn, go and get your hands dirty

LOOK & LEARN your gar­den is an ex­cel­lent place to learn from mis­takes!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.